Monday, 30 August 2010

Knowsley Safari Park

I've been to animal parks as far afield as Orlando and Tenerife, aswell as Whipsnade and Longleat. Surprising then that until today I have no real recollection of visiting Knowsley Safari Park.

I'm almost certain I have. I have vague memories of being carted around there some 25 years ago or more in a Variety Club Sunshine bus. We used to cruelly refer to it as the window-licking bus. I don't know if they still have them now. It's been just that long.

Whether I had or I hadn't been before, I was certainly due a visit. Well, what else are you going to do on a sport-less Bank Holiday Monday in August when cinema options extend to another God-awful Adam Sandler 'comedy' or a tit-drenched re-make of Piranha? Actually.............

It was a pretty reasonable £14 for both Emma and I to gain entrance into the park. For that you apparently get almost five miles worth of what they call 'Safari Drive', plus entry to pedestrianised displays such as a sea lion show, a falconry demonstration and a house full of disgusting bugs. More on which later on.

This being England, there is an access issue straight off the bat. Were I in possession of fully-functioning legs I would also have been able to take a stroll through the woodland trail area. Since I am not I was not able to do so, and so missed out on whatever weird wonders lurked therein. I have seen something similar in the Lake District and so can only imagine that it is mostly greenery, birds (and not the kind found in the Piranha movie), squirrels and foxes and maybe the odd badger. You may take the view that I am not missing out on very much, whereas I take the view that any opportunity to complain about inaccessiblity at tourist attractions should be seized upon instantly.

With woodland trails out of the equation we began our Safari Drive. Accompanying the drive is an audio guide. In other words, a CD containing commentary on all the species living in the park. Unlike it's Longleat counterpart which is far more generic and therefore helpful, this effort was recorded during an actual Safari Drive taken by a broadcaster and someone called Dave (obviously). Dave was one of the people responsible for the foundation of the park in 1971, and clearly knows his stuff. What he doesn't know about animals could only be gleaned by repeatedly torturing Terry Nutkins and Chris Packham. However, since he is speaking during an actual Safari Drive, he is making reference to sightings and events that are clearly not happening back in the real world;

"Yes and now we have an emu blocking the road, and we could be here for a while." he says philosophically, while we were actually sat in a queue of at least 10-15 cars, the drivers of which had stopped to watch a group of elephants. There wasn't an emu within 400 yards. He went on to describe visits to his vehicle from squirrels and of course the obligatory baboons, none of which were present in reality.

The park was not busy considering today is a Bank Holiday, but at one point around the elephant section all three lanes of the road were gridlocked. This is all very well if you like looking at elephants, but even so it can only keep your attention for a limited amount of time. My advice would be to pause the CD at this point, lest you find yourself listening to a description of lions and wildebeest when all you can see are elephants. And some Mondeos.

If all this sounds like a complaint it isn't. It's preferable for the drive to take up a significant amount of your time. There would be little point in racing around there in 10 minutes, regarding these magnificent beasts in the same way that you would a group of cows in a field by the M6. They deserve better and they are going to make damn sure you pay attention to them.

The best examples of this came in lion country. Many zoos might have two, maybe three lions living on their land, all of which are cooped up rather sadly in hardly adequate caging. Not so here, where a full pride of what must have been 10 or so lions had the run of the woodland. Acres of space, as sports commentators would have it. One lioness brazenly crossed the road metres from the front of the car. She didn't even stop to look at the gormless people who had come to gawp at her. Instead she merely plodded on and returned to the rest of the pride for what lions love best, a bit of a lie down. Seeing a lion roaming around from those sorts of close quarters was something special, even if it didn't have the social skills to acknowledge us. Lions these days............

Other roadblocks were provided by a stubborn and slightly aloof camel and several baboons. We'd chosen the car-friendly route to view the baboons. We've had enough trouble with our car this year without subjecting it to the bottoms of potentially 140 mischievous monkeys. Barely a week goes by without some kind of warning light coming on and some mechanic stroking his stubble, taking a sharp intake of breath and saying.......'it's gonna cost you'. I pride myself on my ability to waste money but the budget is not limitless, and anyway there is the principle of not giving your cash to cowboys isn't there?

Anyway, back to baboons. Despite taking the safe route we were still offered a fantastic view of the animals. You can see close up all of the gullible folk who don't mind losing the odd windscreen wiper driving along with five or six baboons on the roof. To be fair most of these cars seemed to contain very young children with delighted faces. Perhaps it is worth losing a windscreen wiper or two to see your child's face light up like that. I can only speculate. What I hadn't expected was the sight of several baboons blocking the passage of many of these cars by simply lying in the road. Today has been a reasonably warm day but you would think they could find somewhere safer to sunbathe.

Now, remember that bug house I was telling you about? It was a truly horrifying place. People have offered me the argument that snakes and spiders are 'cute' and are perfectly acceptable pets but of course this is arrant nonsense. Snakes are ugly, spiders even more so. Matching them in the ugly stakes are crocodile newts, leaf-cutter ants, salamanders, brightly coloured poisonous frogs and the utterly revolting legless lizard. He's not drunk, he literally has no legs. The major difference, apparently, between he and a snake is the presence of eyelids. Snakes don't have eyelids. They don't have personality either. There's also beetles, tarantulas and scorpions on view if you are so inclined.

Of far more appeal to me was the sea lion show we witnessed following our escape from the bug house. Reggie and Biffo (falling out of my chair laughing at this point, Biffo? Tell you what, you can call him Biffo but he walked better than I can) performed an array of fairly standard tricks ranging from clapping when directed to leaping out of the water to head a football. Of course there was the time-honoured balancing of said ball on the sea lions nose, although at only 14 months young Reggie clearly still has much to learn on this one. You get the impression that Biffo could keep the ball up there all day, while Reggie can manage only a few seconds at the moment. Apparently he's getting there, which is a feeling I'm sure many of us can identify with.

From there it was on to the falconry display. A handler, complete with Sam Allardyce-style audio headset, gave us the lowdown on Max the eagle, Nibbles the vulture and Pablo the hawk. Quite how anyone can bring themselves to name a bird of prey 'Nibbles' is beyond me. It's not very macho, is it? Nibbles didn't do much flying, preferring instead to walk around a lot. By contrast Pablo went to town with the whole flight thing. His party-piece was to fly just above the heads of the watching public, every man-Jack of whom ducked as he approached. Our guide assured us that his vision is such that he will never crash into anyone during flight, though I am sure I felt his wing brush against the side of my head towards the end of the display. Maybe I was imagining things. I've probably become sensitive to it after being violated by Stitch in Orlando (see earlier blog, we are not going there again you'll be happy to note).

Max was my personal favourite of the three. He flew at a sensible, safe height, and he didn't look at you in the vein hope that you might keel over and die and thus provide an easy meal in the way that Nibbles did. Strangely, Nibbles was not bald as we imagine vultures to be. Although it could have been a syrup.

There's barely enough cyberspace left to talk to you about the meerkats, otters, giraffe and all of the farm animals residing at Knowsley. The pigs were among the noisiest creatures I have ever encountered, although to be fair many of them were only a month old and were spending the entire afternoon chasing after their probably exhausted mother. No wonder all parties were a bit tetchy. Ponies and donkeys offer a quieter option for the kids to stroke, and if you really want to see something cutesy then there are lop-eared rabbits also. And sheep and goats, but nobody likes them, do they?

Like them or not, there is certainly enough I do like at Knowsley Safari Park to suggest that it will not be another 25 years before I visit again.

Friday, 27 August 2010


"You'll find loads of Joss Stone songs on there that you haven't heard." Emma told me the other night.

She was talking about Spotify, but I scoffed at the prospect. I refused to believe that the aforementioned Soul Angel had made a single sound since about 2004 that I had not picked up on. Well actually she probably has but I'd rather not go into that. I'm talking music now. Anyway, how wrong I was. Suddenly I was like the proverbial child in the sweet shop as I discovered dozens of what I thought were new tracks. It has probably been there years, but as with all other technological developments I have been a bit slow on the uptake where Spotify is concerned.

Mercifully for all you nay-sayers and philistines out there, this is not another pro-Joss propaganda article. The point is that Spotify is a brilliant little invention which, when you type in the name of an artist or a song, will list endless tracks associated with that artist or song title. The only down side to it is that after every three or four tracks chosen you are subjected to an advert (usually for Spotify or a related music product) whether you like it or not. But it is almost always only the one, so it is not long before the music world is once again at your filthy, disturbed fingertips. And unlike YouTube, you don't get tracks that sound like they have been recorded from inside a beer barrell, nor do they cut off before they have actually finished.

I tended to get a bit bamboozled by the choice, even within the limits of a list relating to a single artist. It reminded me of that Monty Python sketch about spam only instead of spam, spam, spam, spam and spam I was left to ponder over Joss with James Brown, Joss with Melissa Etheridge, Joss with Leanne Rhimes, Joss with Jeff Beck, even Joss with Robbie Williams. There's even a cover of the old Beach Boys classic 'God Only Knows'. By the way, in the interests of balance I should point out that Mr Williams has an extensive collection of Spotify tracks of his own. Be warned though, for every Morning Sun there is a Rock DJ, and for every No Regrets there is a Rudebox. Or something. Yet irrespective of which artist floats your boat you will find a veritable array of treats here. You can just skip over the garbage.

You can, if you are sad enough, lose hours on Spotify. I told myself repeatedly that I would just play one more song, but by the end of another 100 one more songs it was well after midnight and I was cursing Spotify for the exhaustion I knew lay ahead in the morning. For all the things that Spotify can do, it cannot get you out of going to work, nor getting up at 7.00 in the morning with the distinct feeling that you are three stones heavier than you were when you went to bed.

Give it a try. You'll find loads of tracks on there that you never knew existed. No, really. You will.

Friday, 20 August 2010


I don't like Thai food. In fact I don't like any food except cheese. Not Thai, not Chinese, not Indian, not French, not Greek, not Spanish not anything. Strange then that I should take the decision to join my old work colleagues at Chaophraya, a Thai restaurant in Liverpool One.

Yet there is method in this madness. A couple of these people are leaving and so they were celebrating. Celebrating is absolutely the operative word here, but it takes someone to leave for everyone to get their sociable heads on. I worked there for a year and social outings were rare. Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie get together socially more often than we did, and it is more than possible as people start leaving their jobs that we might never get together again.

My first problem was getting there. This being August it was of course hammering down with the kind of rain not seen since well.........since the day before yesterday. Undeterred I plodded on, but managed to get lost. I was rolling along quite absent mindedly with the MP3 player on when after about 10 minutes I found myself heading towards a pub. I would have called in for a drink had it not then dawned on me that firstly I was already on course to be very late, and secondly that the pub in question was at the bottom of the street where I work!

Having resolved to concentrate on what I was actually doing rather than trundling around in circles, I found Liverpool One with no more drama. Finding the restaurant was a different proposition. I'd been told it was near to the Hilton hotel, but what I didn't know is that you had to get into the lift from there and go up to the fifth floor. I found this useful titbit of information from the Tourist Information Centre, which I also found quite by accident.

By now around 20 minutes late I exited the lift to find a row of restaurants at the top of the ramp. Only Chaophraya wasn't one of them. It was on the other side of the complex, hidden away like Dr Evil's lair. It crossed my mind that Liverpool One could make good use of maps, but it's a place that seems to think it is too cool for that. You're slumming it if you offer people help in getting around. Liverpool One is only for pseudo-trendy people, and pseudo-trendy people don't need maps. Except perhaps to find their way up their own backsides to retrieve their heads.

As expected I couldn't eat much, yet I could still have done without one of our number asking the waiter if he could get me some chips. Chaophraya thinks it is up-market, and it is not the sort of place where one can sit there eating a split and fish while all around you are tucking into their Thai curries and their duck. I managed some chicken and some strange bread-based concoction smeared in sesame seeds, but that was about my lot. The chip request sparked something in the waiter, who spent much of the rest of the time dashing over to our table to offer me alternatives. Chicken nuggets? No thanks. Prawns? No thanks. Ice cream? No thanks. It was all a bit Mrs Doyle. Say you will. You will, you will, you will, you will, you will. You will. I won't.

I wouldn't even have a dessert. I could easily have shifted some chocolate cake but it didn't seem appropriate having declined everything else. Except beer. I had beer. Budweiser is Budweiser, irrespective of foreign cuisine. We moved on to a few pubs and I thankfully started to feel a little less like everyone was looking at me, willing me to eat a spring roll. It was still raining and I was still hungry, but I was still glad to have been there.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

York - The Last Word

So where was I? Oh yes. In York.

Those of you still with me from part one will remember that I was initially turned away from the Jorvik Viking Centre due to fire regulations. I wasn't carrying any matches or fidgeting gormlessly with a cigarette lighter. They told me that they could not accommodate more than one wheelchair user at a time.

All of which disability inaccess led to our arriving on Friday morning for a second bite at the cherry. Clearly they had ran out of excuses to dismiss us, and they let us in without too much fuss. Via a small lift we made our way down to the visitors centre, the main feature of which is it's glass floor.

It may not sound all that exciting, but when you take into account the fact that the room is only lit by the glare of the television monitors dotted around it changes your perspective. It genuinely looks like there is no floor in the middle of the room, and the model of the old Viking Digs set a few feet below the glass only adds to the effect. Despite what your eyes tell you, it is quite safe to step (or wheel) on to the glass and have a look around. The Digs aren't much to look at however, and the main pleasure to be gained is a kind of Homer Simpson-esque delight at being able to skim across the top of a seemingly invisible floor and not fall face first into the rocks below.

The Jorvik Centre has it's own ride too. It's not The Hulk at Universal Studios, but it is very similar to some of the more gentler attractions that a place like Orlando has to offer. Another miracle of access (could this be the reason for their strict one at a time policy?) allowed me to board one of the carriages which takes you on a historical tour of all things Viking. The idea is to educate you on how the Vikings used to live, hunt, work and behave.

Undoubtedly though, the highlight is meeting the gentleman who gets caught short on his toilet. Upon being greeted by the ride's audio narrator the man lets out an embarrassed and muffled Scandinavian utterance before promptly 'dropping the kids off'. For authenticity the air suddenly becomes filled with a decidedly ploppy smell. I found all of this hugely amusing but I think Emma felt a little queasy once the smell escaped.

Excrement is a theme at the Jorvik Centre, as on display there you will also find what I can only describe to you as a lump of shite. There, in a glass case all of it's own, is a sample of human excrement accompanied by some scientific jibber-jabber about how much we can learn from the chemicals in shite or some such. To my mind it looked like something you might get out of an old fashioned joke shop at Blackpool but then I should remember that it fell out of it's human vehicle some 1200 years ago. It's bound to have let itself go.

Our final destination would be the Merchant Adventurer's House. The Merchant Adventurers were basically tradesmen who sailed the world trying to sell their goods and make a bit of wonga. It is perhaps best to think of them as an early version of a worker's union, and the house is a grand old place where they would hold their meetings and social events. Your tour of the house is accompanied by a free audio guide which on appearance looks like the Sky Digital remote handset. 'Press your red button now to watch Lord Poncemby sail to Bordeaux to buy wine live and exclusively in HD'. The trouble with this little gizmo is that it cannot be paused, so you find yourself struggling to keep up with the descriptions of the art work and other exhibits on display.

By the time you have sussed out how to get the right information at the time that you actually want it you have reached the chapel, and you get the feeling that you are just about done with religion and churches. For a little light relief, and to keep the house in touch with the technological revolution, there are touch-screen games which place you in the Merchant Adventurer's boat and challenge you to sail the world trading your products. I visited Bordeaux first obviously, but also took in Bilbao, Copenhagen, and somewhere in Belgium on my way to a glorious £8 profit. I was then informed that while my haul was a worthy one allowing for economic inflation, I still had to pay my crew and so would probably only have gone away with enough money for half a hogs head for the banquet.

But that's York. It's a wonderful city but it proves that you really can't have everything.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

York - Day Two

The first bus left for the city centre tour at 9.55am. Of course, this being us, we were never going to be on it. Not when you consider my long-standing feud with public transport. Again it would be one of the themes of the day.

Four buses pulled in an and out of the first stop-off point without offering even the merest hint of wheelchair access. Nevertheless our patience held, only because the leaflet insisted that 'most' buses were accessible. One in five is not my idea of 'most', but it probably satisfies some half-arsed Disability Discrimination Act criteria laid out by politicans who are suspicously devoid of disability. Not of the physical variety, in any event.

What the leaflet doesn't tell you is that when you finally find yourself an accessible bus, you will have an innaccessible driver. Sporting the kind of ludicrous grey mullet normally reserved for Barnsley cab drivers, our man looked promising when he let us on to the bus without charging us. Sadly, he did so because he didn't actually know how much to charge us (that scary chair thing again) and had to pull up so that he could ask the guide on the upper deck. Turns out it was his first day on the job. You can imagine the conversation at Head Office beforehand;

"I'm not sure about Bob, he doesn't seem to know what he's really doing yet."

"Ah, just stick him on the accessible bus, he'll be fine. Nobody uses that thing anyway. I mean, accessible buses? Do me a favour."

What I can also tell you about York's City Tour Bus is that the stops on the map mean nothing. Stop 8 is Dick Turpin's grave, the only problem being that the bus can't actually stop there. It can stop 200 yards down the road, which would be slightly more helpful if the guide had explained that you can't actually see it anyway. Not since it appears to be on the inside of a locked church.

Stop 3 is the Richard III museum, though it remains unclear exactly where stop 3 is. It doesn't appear to be in York. Maybe it is innaccessible and they didn't have the heart to tell us. Or maybe 'Bob' just doesn't know and felt a bit silly asking so many questions on his first day.

By now we were a little weary of buses, and so made our way to the Castle Museum. Not the castle itself, you understand. That would be living the dream, located as it is up an absurd number of steps on top of a large hill. Even Emma would have had difficulty climbing that many steps, so we moved on to the museum down the road. Parts of which were, you guessed it, inaccessible.

And free. We were allowed in for nothing. The museum staff are obviously mortified by the fact that they cannot manage to make their building fully accessible and so do not have the audacity to charge a fee. Not helping their cause is that it is difficult to put many of the exhibits into any kind of context, such is the lack of information supplied. You can stare at a box full of watches, belts, buckles, tools and clothes for as long as you like, you never really get a sense of their relevance to York Castle. To make up for this, a life-size model of a horse and stagecoach is slapped straight in the middle of one of the cobbled streets containing said exhibits. This fascinates young children. There's also a fire engine.

It's not until you get to the prison that you start to get some idea of what life in and around York Castle might have been like hundreds of years ago. A selection of devilish and dastardly characters are brought to life by short films projected onto the walls of the cells they once occupied. This is where you find out the grizzly good stuff, with crimes ranging from high treason and armed robbery to stabbing one's spouse to death with a variety of sharp kitchen utensils. We finally located Dick Turpin, but he was unable to shed any light on the location of his grave, what with him being a professional actor beamed digitally onto a concrete wall.

As far as we could tell, nobody had ever been placed in York Castle's prison for whistling on a Tuesday, nor were there any executioners called Ploppy. We were understandably disappointed by this.

York is a city which loves a museum, so from there it was on to the National Rail Museum. That is after we had visited the model railway exhibition, the main attraction of which is the ability to press buttons and watch things move. And not just model trains, but windmills and cars and flashing lights and maybe even a few animals. If you want to be really childish (and I do) there is the Thomas The Tank Engine section too. I'm sure there was a time when kids would have been enthralled at the prospect of bringing all of the characters to life with the push of just a few buttons. Then somebody invented X-Box.

The National Rail Museum is actually a truly impressive place. You don't have to have any previous interest in trains or transport to walk into the Great Hall and be awed. I went on board a Japanese Bullet (well ok, it was never going to move) and can remember thinking that nothing as good as this would be leaving Thatto Heath for Lime Street on Monday morning. In a truly ironic twist, the NRM had managed to make their trains more accessible than those actually in use across England's railway stations. I headed on board a steam train too, not to mention another used by the Royal Mail. Any more excitement than this and I might just have wet myself.

Information relating to the history of rail travel is dotted around the NRM. My favourite snippet was the Duke of Wellington's (tea, man, tea!!!!!!!!) assertion that he was against rail travel because he feared it would allow too much movement from the 'lower order'. He wasn't talking about England's batting line-up from Graeme Swann downwards, but rather the lower classes of England at that time. It was a classic piece of outrageous bigotry, and I tried to imagine David Cameron coming out with such wisdom without having half a brick thrown at his perfectly coiffured, public schoolboy head!

I visited the city's art gallery alone. Emma wanted to re-visit the crypt at the Minster, and I wanted to feel as though I was at least half-way cultured. Normally I hate art. I find it offensive that a woman can write names on a tent and be lauded for her achievements, or that the same praise and reward can be lavished on a man who hasn't made his bed. My opinion hasn't really changed, despite the fact that there is some great art work on display. There's also too many photographs which I'm sure I could have taken, and paintings which didn't seem out of the ordinary either. However, it should be remembered that when it comes to art I don't really know what I'm looking for. I just know it isn't a tent with names on, an un-made bed or a photograph of a 13-year-old girl performing a martial arts manouvre.

In the evening we had energy only for a meal and a bottle of red, whereupon I discovered that I don't like egg on pizza. I like egg in every form imaginable, but I was eventually left feeling a little sickly after munching my way through a large Carnivora pizza. If you're wondering, it contains pepperoni, sliced ham, salami and the offending egg. It can, if you dare, be purchased for a reasonable price at the Tuscany Restaurant in the centre of York.

On the table next to us an obnoxious man with two American daughters complained to the manager because his pizza hadn't arrived within 27 seconds of his order. The manager chewed the waitresses ear off in full view of the diners. She returned to the obnoxious man's table and he was all hearts and flowers, apologising profusely and assuring her that he had not meant to get her in trouble. I was willing her to smash his wine bottle over his head but she let me down. I hope he had egg in his pizza and spent the whole night rolfing it down his hotel loo.

Thankfully, I'd stopped in time to save myself that fate.

Monday, 2 August 2010

York - Day One

With a whole week off from work we decided that, rather than stay in and watch True Movies and old episodes of Monk, we would get away for a few days. We chose York just because it was somewhere we had never been together, and there seemed to be a lot of places of interest to visit. No doubt some or all of these places would be inaccessible.

On the journey there I was disturbed to learn that Emma is a Lady GaGa fan. She has a CD with THREE tracks on it which can be rightly attributed to the gobshite Madonna wannabe. That's Lady GaGa, not Emma. Keep up. I myself detest Lady GaGa in a way that is difficult to explain and so I will offer you only the following evidence;

'Rah-Rah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Roma-Roma-Mamaa-Ga-Ga-Ooh-La-La-Want Your Romance'

I think you get my point.

If you are thinking that a disability-related mix-up and subsequent farce is hurtling towards this story then you would be right. It's as predictable as one of Baldrick's cunning plans unfortunately. Two hours of the A1 behind us, we arrived at the Saxon Hotel just outside the city to find that not only was our room inaccessible, but so was the rest of the hotel. There were two steps at the front by the pavement and another in front of the doorway. Not to mention the three more that went down to the only bathroom on the ground floor.

Luckily Emma has experience of putting up with this kind of crap, and so she made a few phone calls. Laterooms, with whom we had made the booking, blamed the hotel for supplying incorrect information, while the hotel staff blamed Laterooms for not informing them that someone would be having the temerity to turn up using a wheelchair. They even took the credit for moving us to a much nicer hotel in the city centre. You get what you pay for though, so it cost a little more. They gave us the £20 car parking fee.

Finally settled into our thankfully accessible hotel we headed off into the city for a snoop around. We found large bridges built on slanted roads which made pushing even short distances feel like a road session with Tanni-Grey Thompson. By the end of my marathon we still had a few hours to kill before the Ghost Walk we had planned on joining in the evening. We tried to visit the Jorvik Viking Centre but made the staggering discovery that due to fire regulations they were unable to admit more than one wheelchair user at a time. I checked with Emma to make sure it really was 2010, before reluctantly agreeing to make a booking for the Friday morning.

And so instead we visited the famous York Minster. If it is not as famous as they like to think and you don't know what I'm talking about I should explain then that it is a cathedral. It has stunning architecture both inside and out, but then it ought to since they are charging you £8 for what is essentially entry into a church. Even that fecking priest from my nephew's Holy Communion service would balk at that. What I noticed most about the Minster was the amount of death in there. There are rows and rows of plaques dedicated to fallen soldiers, noblemen and other such luminaries, many of whom died in gruesome circumstances. A service was taking place which seemed to attract a lot of visitors but after my anti-religious rant I decided not to get too close. I'm not a hypocrite, but at the same time I think that such a historic piece of world class architecture is worth preserving, and visiting for that matter.

The Ghost Walk, or something similar to it, is something we had experienced before in Stratford. This particular York version (there are at least four in what is becoming a thriving tourist industry business) was a little funnier than that, if a little more embarrassing also. It started at the Shambles market, and did so with our Ghostly guide strolling down the road, coming to a stop for fully 10 seconds before scaring the bejesus out of an unfortunate lady with her back to him;

"ARE YOU.....................!" he bellowed;

"Ghost hunting, tonight?"

She daren't say no at that point. And so began a pleasant walk around the city, inter-mingled with spooky stories of York's ghostly history. Saddest of all was the tale of the young girl who is said to haunt one house after being abandoned there by her parents because she had developed black boils under her arms. Her parents believed it was the plague and left her there and then, locked in her room. To boot, they painted a big red cross on the front door to warn any passers by not to enter the house. Our guide claimed that she can still be heard and seen screeching for help and scratching her nails down the bedroom window in an effort to escape. This is the cynical bit. Bollocks she can.

If you are going to go on a Ghost Walk then you better hope you are not chosen by the guide as his comedy prop. The unfortunate Dave seemed to have been chosen only because of his height, but his ordeals included being given a broken horn to blow, and being told to stand in a corner while the rest of the crowd backed him into the wall;

"There's no going back now." the guide quipped.

For his finale he tried to humiliate everyone who had, after all, paid their £5 for the privelege. He walked the group to a position opposite an Italian restaurant and instructed them to wave in unison at the diners. More than one of the restaurant customers waved back stupidly, and far too enthusiastically. For an encore he led the group to the window and had them blow a great big raspberry at the customers. Thumbs pressed into cheeks and everything. The real deal. You can't help but laugh in a situation like this but you get the feeling that if you didn't you'd cry.

It might have been a cheap laugh, but it was a good deal more creative than;

'Rah-Rah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah-Roma-Roma-Mamaa-Ga-Ga-Ooh-La-La-Want Your Romance'